All alone at the summit

the master             Kenenisa Bekele         enhanced his reputation with a terrific double at the World Championships in Berlin. AFP

In these fast and flashy times, Usain Bolt, not surprisingly, is the king of the track but in the shadow lurks one man who has all the credentials to be the emperor.
It isn’t Kenenisa Bekele’s fault that his career has reached its pinnacle just when a man with big strides and bigger ambition is fast rewriting history, barely concealing his desire to be a legend of his sport. It isn’t Bekele’s fault either that his race doesn’t offer instant glory – its tale unfolds over several laps in contrast to the blur of a hundred-metre run.

Bolt might have already done enough to be reckoned a legend, but he feels he needs to prove his class over a period of time, and is prepared to do just that. Bekele, too, has done enough and more to be considered a legend even if he hangs up his spikes at this very moment. But unlike the Jamaican, the Ethiopian doesn’t shout this from the roof tops. Through his deeds every time he steps on the track, Bekele makes it crystal clear that he is aware of the history of his sport and that he has his path well charted out.

Last year at the Beijing Olympic Games, Bekele showed where he stood in the pantheon of long distance running greats with a 5000-10000M double. He repeated it in Berlin last week, demolishing his rivals in his own very special way, thus becoming the first man to complete the 5000-10000M double in both the Olympics and the World Championships.
The four gold medals were proof – if proof was ever needed – that at 27, Bekele has no peers in the world. The 10000M – the distance he is more comfortable at – was tackled in the now-familiar Bekele fashion at Berlin as he waited and watched before unleashing that ferocious kick at the bell. The 5000 needed closer vigil, and it was fascinating to see the way in which the Ethiopian went about his task, controlling the pace superbly and outsmarting American defending champion Bernard Lagat in a terrific sprint finish.

“Kenenisa has really everything it takes to be a champion,” Lagat said, doffing his hat to the master. “He is really great and I presume we will have to wait for a long time before we will see another runner like him in the future. Kenenisa is one of the greatest athletes of all time.”
Ever the team man, Bekele’s attempt at the double itself was born out of the desire to help his country recover from the setbacks suffered in other events, notably the women’s 10000M, where the absence of Tirunesh Dibaba had led to a Kenyan coup. He admitted he was hurt after Meseret Defar and Meselech Melkamu were rudely brushed aside by Kenya’s Linet Masai in the 10000M.
“I felt very disappointed after that race. Their defeat did put pressure on me and I was keen to win my country’s first gold medal,” said Bekele after winning the 10000M. It was his first 10000M race of the season, but Bekele said he was prepared for it. “I trained very hard for it, so it wasn’t difficult for me. I had an injury late last season but I had prepared to peak here. That was my goal and I achieved it,” added Bekele after his fourth gold medal over the distance equalled the record set by his great compatriot Haile Gebrselassie. 

For those who have followed the careers of the two runners, it is obvious that Bekele has taken over the torch from Gebrselassie and ventured into territories even the great man never set foot in. Apart from three Olympic gold medals, the world records in both 5000 (12:37.35) and 10000M (26:17.53) are in Bekele’s bag. Besides, his feats in World cross-country championships – victories in short and long races five straight times in a total of eleven gold medals -- are simply awe-inspiring. And one more gold medal in 10000M at the next World Championships will help him surpass Gebrselassie’s record.

“It is very much possible. I am only 27 and I will be very happy if I could do that,” said Bekele. But even as he stacks up titles on the track, it’s clear where his heart is. “Cross-country is certainly better than track. You can enjoy the atmosphere, the open air, the hills in cross-country, unlike track,” said Bekele, whose record in cross-country is unlikely to be broken in the near future, with the International Association of Athletics Federations deciding to make the event biennial.
The Ethiopian is gunning for the Golden League jackpot this year but time and again, he has been pushed out of the limelight by other athletes, with Bolt doing the act this time. Bekele doesn’t grudge it one bit. “I watched Usain run and I enjoyed it very much – it was a great race. It is correct that Usain gets that much more attention — he not only won the two golds, but broke two world records as well,” said Bekele.
Of course, Bolt would be way ahead in a 100M race between the two but Bekele is game for a contest over a longer distance. “I could run the 100M in 11 seconds but I will certainly beat him in the 800 metres,” said Bekele, in all seriousness. Now, that would be one race to watch out for -- the king of speed against the emperor of long distance running!

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